Last week, the Task Force for Housing & Climate published its long-awaited report, with a series of recommendations for local governments, provincial governments, and the federal government that the task force believes will greatly contribute to the well-publicized goal of building 5.8M new homes by 2030 in order to restore housing affordability.

With backing from the Clean Economy Fund, the Task Force for Housing & Climate was created in September 2023 as an independent group to come up with solutions that can not only fix Canada's housing crisis, but to do so in a way that is also environmentally sound and forward-thinking.

The group consists of 15 housing experts — affordable housing advocates, economists, developers, planners, former mayors — from across Canada and is co-chaired by former Mayor of Edmonton Don Iveson and former Deputy Leader of the Conservative Party of Canada Lisa Raitt.

The report, titled Blueprint for More and Better Housing, consists of 40 policy recommendations for municipal governments, 50 for provincial governments, and 50 for the federal government, all three of which the task force believes need to play a critical role if we are to meet our goal.

Another member of the task force is Cherise Burda, the Executive Director at City Building, Toronto Metropolitan University, who has spent much of her career specializing in research and knowledge mobilization. She has served on the Ontario Premier's Transit Investment Strategy Panel and the City of Toronto's Affordable Housing Advisory Board, and has authored over 40 policy reports.

In an interview with STOREYS, Burda discusses how the task force came up with the various recommendations, what she thinks those who care about our housing crisis should take away from the report, and why we can't treat each housing project like a snowflake.

STOREYS: To start off with, how did the task force go about putting together the recommendations?

Cherise Burda: It was a lot of work for everybody involved. In terms of how we came up with the recommendations, we broke out into groups that kind of tackled different elements of our goals. We had goals for new housing to address climate goals, low carbon, affordability, resiliency, and scaling housing, so we broke into groups that each tackled each of these goals in more detail and brought to the whole group some of our thinking.

A lot of what we did was look at a number of recommendations from other committees and all the research that was available. But what was also critical was that the Clean Economy Fund commissioned research specific to this task force. They commissioned a group of climate experts and climate modelers to model the climate and carbon impacts of new housing under two scenarios. One scenario was building our 5.8M new homes the same way we always have. [The other] was building 5.8M new homes with smart policies to not only make buildings less carbon-intensive, but also to look at building our housing with intensification so that we're not building-in car-dependency. They actually did the modeling, which was never done before, to inform the task force.

We also had some research done from TMU and the University of Toronto's School of Cities that looked at the type of housing that Canadian households need, in terms of income, the types of homes, and where these homes should be. We're very, very well-informed, not just by the body of information that's out there, but from third-party research that was commissioned specifically to inform the task force and our recommendations. That's why, if you look at our report, we framed our recommendations on this modeling and the research. It's why we looked at building homes that are affordable and climate-friendly, but also where they're built, what is built, how it's built, and who we're building it for.

S: Looking at the recommendations themselves, what would you identify as some of the key recommendations or takeaways?

C: Depending on who [on the task force] you talk to, they'd probably give you a different answer. It was a very diverse group of people, so it's not like we all sang from the same song sheet. There were different perspectives on the task force.

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from the blueprint is the issue of location — of where we build — being fundamental to getting housing right. A lot of times when people think about housing and climate, their brains automatically go to solar panels or making the building green, and yes, that's a very important issue, but I think people don't automatically think about where we build as being fundamental. When we think about where we build, we want a suite of policies that encourage more intensification and discourage more urban sprawl, so a lot of the recommendations [entailed] building more density around transit, changing parking rules, policies to protect wetlands and farmland, and then of course there a number of recommendations that dealt with where not to build, such as floodplains.

S: Were there any recommendations that made it into the final report that kind of surprised you? Perhaps something you had not previously thought about before?

C: This wasn't really a surprise, but there was a really important recommendation that hadn't made it into other task forces, but made it into ours. It was the recommendation for 2.3M new homes — 40% of [the 5.8M] new homes — to be built as either non-market or below-market.

There's research that shows that 40% of Canadian households cannot afford market-rate housing — greater than $1,600 a month, including utilities — and half of those households are unable to afford more than $1,050 per month. If you think about what the average rent is in Canada, it's much more than that.

95% of Canada's housing stock is market-rate housing. We only have between 5% and 6% of the entire housing stock that is either social housing or co-ops or non-profit housing, so we recognize scaling non-market housing, co-ops, and not-for-profit housing as a really important part of solving both affordability and climate, because a lot of co-ops and non-market housing providers in Canada make their housing quite green. When you have not-for-profit and co-op housing providers build this housing, they're in it for the long haul, so they can include energy-efficient and low-carbon buildings because it matters to them what the energy bills are over time. We were building a lot of that stuff at one point. Twenty-five percent of housing construction was non-market housing in the '70s. Now it's almost nothing.

S: I think it would be fair to say that some of the recommendations are more realistic and achievable than others. Which ones would you say are the quick fixes governments can implement that can make an impact?

C: I think it all depends on how you prioritize them, but one kind of housing you can build quickly is secondary suites. I think if we can build on what CMHC wants to do with its catalogue of blueprints — I believe the first catalogue is going to be looking at multiplexes, secondary suites, and laneway homes — and scale that kind of housing, and help to invest in the factory production of this kind of housing, those are the types of homes that can scale quite quickly across our residential neighbourhoods.

It's just that right now it's not affordable for homeowners to do it, so we need to make this more cost-effective and we need better programs to scale this kind of housing. It's a lot quicker to build a backyard suite than it is to build a 40-storey building. But it's about doing it at scale.

S: As a whole, how do you think these recommendations line up with what's currently in place? Are we kind of heading in these directions already or is there a ways to go?

C: It's interesting that you're in Vancouver, because I think BC is probably leading the way on a lot of recommendations that we included. We're learning from BC, which is leading in a number of things. They've already adopted the highest tier of building code, in terms of how green the building code is. Provinces have the discussion to adopt any tier of the federal building code and BC is leading in that regard.

BC is also moving ahead with a lot more affordability [measures]. Now, they have jurisdiction over affordable housing [via BC Housing], because they didn't download it to the municipalities like in places such as Ontario — that's why Toronto has Toronto Community Housing. Municipalities don't have the budget to build more housing. They barely have the budget to maintain existing affordable housing. That's why affordable housing is such a challenge. We've had over three decades of disinvestment in affordable housing at the federal level. I would say that's one of our number one get-it-done things — for the federal government to get back into affordable housing.

S: I usually talk to locals here about what BC is doing, so it's very interesting to hear you say that and your perspective as somebody outside of BC.

C: BC is continuing to build BC Housing, continuing to support co-ops, and they're also doing something that all of Canada really needs to be doing, which is housing needs assessments. BC is actually looking at beyond the target and also what type of housing we need, and for whom. BC is looking at that and that helps inform how you prioritize resources to build housing. You only have so much labour and so much financing — it's finite — so if we're just building more one-bedroom condos, we're, in some ways, not directing our resources at targeting the type of housing that we really need to build.

[The Government of Canada] needs to do that. Their identification of 5.8M homes was a first step, but what they need to do next is a comprehensive housing needs assessment, so we know what housing we need in Canada, and for whom, which will help us orient our resources and our approvals and public land.

BC is also doing great stuff around multiplexes and really leading with preservation — with the acquisition fund for non-profits to acquire apartment buildings that are at risk at financialized.

S: Finally, were there are recommendations you're personally very passionate about, or feel very strongly about, or wanted to emphasize?

C: One thing I'd like to emphasize is how we build. We have an opportunity to build on the catalogue of blueprints I was talking about. It's one thing to have the blueprint, but we need to produce. We really need to get serious about investing in off-site factory production, and those factories have the potential to build energy-efficient components and panels that can then be assembled a lot more quickly and cost-effectively on site, whether it's a laneway house or mid-sized building. Those factories are also an opportunity to provide safer and year-round labour. There are a lot of good things that can come of that.

I would also say being able to find ways to make repeatable building designs and floorplates, so you're not treating every single building like it's its own snowflake. Some sort of standardization and repeatability would go a long way to enabling those laneways suites or mid-rise building. Mid-rise is a really versataile and really important scale of housing. You can build them to five storeys in certain neighbourhoods where that is feasible and you can also build them to 11 storeys where there's higher density, but the challenge with mid-rise is it's not as repeatable as things like high-rises and single-family homes.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. You can read the full set of recommendations, here.